Mutt & Co Pet Boutique in Hartlepool, Teesside, has only been open for just over a year and progress has been so dramatic that the store has been crowned UK Pet Retailer of the Year at the PetQuip Awards.
Owner Amy-leigh Norris (pictured, second from left, receiving the PetQuip Award) reveals how independent pet retailers can achieve success in today's challenging times.
When did you open the pet store?
We opened the pet store in August 2017 after two months of restoration work to the building.
Was there a pet shop there before?
It was a wool store for around 60 years but the lady retired and we acquired the property. I grew up in the area and always admired the big window display space, so I knew the building had great potential.
Amy-leigh (centre) celebrates the store's first anniversary with her team. Above right, the boutique at Christmas.
How many people work in the store?
There are five members of permanent staff between the boutique and the grooming parlour to the rear. We also have two students on work experience at the moment.
What’s your background?
Before I opened the store I was a stay-at-home mum for five years. I decided to retrain in canine nutrition and behaviour. I've always had an interest in animals and helping them. Changing my own dog’s diet for the better, I decided to study and train as much as I could and qualified as a canine nutritionist and raw feeding expert.
How do you attract business?
Word of mouth has been our best way of attracting business. New dogs come to the store every week as a result of current customers’ recommendations. We also attract business by keeping our customers up to date on our social media platforms with any new items of stock. We also post lots of photos of customers’ dogs on our Facebook page.
Do you offer other services as well as selling pet products?
We are a natural pet boutique selling all manner of natural toys and treats, but we also run monthly pet first aid classes, behaviour courses and nutrition seminars. All the companies we use or invite to the store are local businesses, mostly from our town because we believe in helping to boost the local economy. We also have an all-natural grooming parlour inside the store called 'Bark and Bone Grooming Parlour'. Georgia, our head groomer, is also a qualified nutrionist and behavouirst like me. We offer spa packages, from mudbaths to pawdicures. and all of our shampoos and products are free from harmful chemicals. We also do not use cages or muzzles, and have a one-dog policy. Each dog gets one-to-one attention, making the experience a lot more relaxing.
What sets you apart from the rest?
We offer several services in one store. We have a rapour with each customer and dog that comes in. If they come in on their birthday we make a fuss – they get a goodie bag and we set our Facebook profile to that dog’s photo. We can offer free professional nutritional advice and be confident we can change a dog’s diet and help that customer.
What’s the secret of your success?
It’s being kind and caring and going above and beyond for all our doggie customers. Customer service is our number one priority.
What does this award mean to you?
This award means the world to me. I have worked extremely hard to build up our clients and business and to say we won the award after being open just over a year is really special. It’s a great start for our business – I hope to grow and expand from this. I must mention my husband too because he has helped us to be as eco friendly as possible in the store. The vast majority of our stands, my counter and treat bar are all handmade by my husband out of recycled materials so it meant a lot of late nights.
What advice would you give to other independent pet shop owners?
The advice I would give to other independent pet shop owners is to be different. Find items that set you apart from everybody else. The pet industry is a crowed market, so offer more than one service. We knew before opening the store we were only going to stock raw frozen food and the best quality natural treats, so we aimed for the health market in pets – hence why I studied nutrition. We stand out and people travel to us. You will find people will come back if your offering something different.